Where to Eat Now

A Whirlwind Food and Drink Tour through Portland's Dame Collective

Where to find carnitas tacos, old-school pasta, matcha lattes, and one wild tahini and chili crisp bialy— all from Northeast’s collaborative restaurant group.

By Karen Brooks May 10, 2023

Image: Thomas Teal

THREE MINI RESTAURANTS. Portland’s teeniest wine shop. A pop-up obsessing over offbeat bialys and the perfect pour-over coffee. A pop-up within a pop-up making beautiful matcha and hojicha lattes. What connects them all? The Dame Collective—as much a poetic concept as multiple projects unfolding in three little spots around NE 30th and Killingsworth. Back in 2019, owner Jane Smith opened her wine bar Dame to “chef residencies” for unmoored talents, with everyone sharing space, resources, and headaches. Recently, the collective expanded a few doors down to include a space dubbed Lil’ Dame along with a wine shop hidden inside of a shipping container. Look for cocktails at Dame, natural wine everywhere, and sidewalk seats in good weather.  

Clandestino’s whole fish is finished over charcoal flames.

Image: Thomas Teal

Clandestino at Lil’ Dame

An appealing blend of rustic and semimodern Mexican cuisine unfolds three nights a week at Lil’ Dame, Monday through Wednesday, hand-patted tortillas included. If you’re ever eaten around Mexico City, you’ll recognize this food. The concept comes from former República chef Lauro Romero, with his longtime right hand Alfonso “Chef Poncho” Torres helming the kitchen most nights. The mood extends to a charming, cramped, DIY Portland aesthetic, energetic music, and a sweet, engaged staff. Whole grilled fish, $42 and enough for two, arrives like a beach party. Aged kampachi crudo sports the kitchen’s glorious candied peanuts and charred cornhusk powder. The carnitas quesadillas say it all: deluxe pulled pork shoulder, skin belly and all, braised to the stars, full of caramelized edges and beads of euphoric fat, all folded into a fresh tortilla finished over a stovetop hibachi. It can make you see colors.

Chelo's one-pound piloncillo-brined pork chop with sikil pak, salsa quemada, braised kale, tobiko, and microgreens

Chelo at Dame

Peak Dame collective: two neighboring spaces serving their own point-of-view Mexican cooking, Monday through Wednesday evenings. While Clandestino’s regional Mexican cuisine lights up Lil’ Dame, chef Luna Contreras’s Chelo delves into playful, seasonally inspired Mexican food steps away at Dame. Where Lil’ Dame is rough-and-tumble, Dame is more feminine chic, with abstract floral wallpaper, navy banquettes, and ancient wood floors—a colorful backdrop for Contreras’ changing ideas, asparagus and epazote pistou to a mole-draped duck leg sided by thick handmade tortillas. Watch for Gaby Martinez’s churros with dulce de leche ice cream and bone marrow.  

The sunlit dining room at Dame

Dame Restaurant

Veteran chef Patrick McKee anchors both Dame and Lil’ Dame Thursday to Sunday, while accepting the mantle of kitchen elder for young cooks. At 53, he’s a walking wiki of Portland dining: seasonal vegetables, wild boar ragù, a decadent foie burger, panna cotta. It’s simple food, deceptively layered. Regulars come for fresh focaccia, handmade pastas, mom’s lasagna, and sprouting broccoli with McKee’s secret almond vinaigrette. Pull up a seat at the curvy quartz bar for classic, vermouth-forward, or agave-centric cocktails.

Sea Can

Dame’s “can do” ethos extends to its new wine shop—a 20-foot-long shipping container with temperature control, between Dame and Lil’ Dame, open just a few nights a week. Inside: Old World classics with minimal intervention, natty wines, and Willamette Valley natural gems. Or, as founder Jane Smith puts it, “There’s a lot of good shit in here.”  

An okonomiyaki bialy from Bialy Bird that can make your bubbie blush

Bialy Bird and Matcha Freak at Dame

Saturdays, rocker-turned-baker Adam Thompson unleashes his sourdough bialys in unorthodox sweet and savory flavors. Tahini chile crisp, anyone? Tastes like a far-out PB&J. He makes nearly everything, jams to pickles, while pursuing a secondary mission: to serve the best pour-over in Portland using his favorite Tokyo-roasted beans, Apollon’s Gold. More drink action is found next to the counter: Katy Connors’s animated pop-up Matcha Freak. Look for super-creamy matcha lattes and black milk tea sweetened with Okinawa brown sugar. A note to bialy purists: get over it. Isn’t this stressed-out world better for having one mashed-potatoes-and-gravy bialy?

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